LSU hopes Mettenberger passes test

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
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AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU QB Zach Mettenberger will look to turn around a passing attack that struggled last season.
With six starters returning on offense and five on defense from a team that reached the BCS National Championship Game, it’s no surprise the LSU Tigers are No. 3 in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25. That’s even with the loss of cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers – both NFL first-round picks – and the dismissal of All-America cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who won the 2011 Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

A major reason for the high expectations is at quarterback, where LSU fans believe it’s a matter of addition by subtraction. Redshirt junior Zach Mettenberger replaces Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, who shared the starting job last season. Who would’ve guessed that would be the case for a school replacing two players with a combined 50 career starts (32 for Jefferson, 18 for Lee) since 2008 with one who has never started an NCAA game?

With Jefferson and Lee as the primary starters over the last four seasons, the Tigers’ passing attack has struggled mightily. They finished in the bottom half of the SEC in four key passing statistical categories during that span.

In 2011, LSU nearly became the second team to beat four AP top-3 opponents in one season (Notre Dame did it in 1943) since the poll came into existence in 1936. The Tigers beat No. 3 Oregon, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Arkansas before losing to the second-ranked Crimson Tide in their rematch in the BCS National Championship Game. In four of its key games – the season opener against the Ducks, both Alabama matchups and the SEC Championship Game against Georgia – LSU got almost nothing from its passing attack yet managed to win three of those contests.

Enter Mettenberger, a strong-armed, pure pocket passer and the most highly touted quarterback to arrive on the LSU campus since JaMarcus Russell (ranked sixth), the first pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, signed in 2003. Mettenberger, the ninth-ranked quarterback in the 2009 signing class, first signed with Georgia but was dismissed from the team in 2010 before ever playing a down for the Bulldogs after getting into legal trouble.

Mettenberger then transferred to Butler (Kan.) Community College, where he led his team to the national title game in his lone season there and was the top-ranked quarterback in the junior college ranks before signing with LSU in 2011. Last season, Mettenberger completed 8-of-11 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown in five games.

LSU already possesses arguably the best set of running backs in the country and one of the nation’s most ferocious defenses. If Mettenberger can improve LSU’s oft-anemic passing attack, it’s easy to envision the Tigers in South Florida playing for the national championship for the second straight season.

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